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Feds get an earful

PINEDALE -- People packed into the Sublette County Library Tuesday to bend the federal government's ear about its cooperation -- or lack thereof -- with local communities and organizations.

Comments during the three-hour meeting included criticism about the Endangered Species Act, criticism about expansive energy development, suggestions for reforming the National Environmental Policy Act, and criticism of heavy-handed federal rule.

Dan Budd, a cattle rancher, told representatives of the Department of Interior and Environmental Protection Agency that the concept of cooperation was "a farce."

"We cooperate, you dictate," he said. He said it seemed the only reason for the federal government to issue cattle grazing permits is to have someone to punish.

The federal "listening session" -- one of a series being held around the country -- aimed to give citizens "an opportunity to exchange ideas on incentives, partnership programs, and regulations that can improve results" in communities. Promoting cooperation and eliminating barriers to cooperation are the key areas, according to the Interior Department.

The department controls management of much of Wyoming through the Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service.

Dr. Tom Johnston, Sublette County health officer, said the federal government should look more closely at the aggregate effects of policies. Specifically, he said the BLM continues to approve more and more projects that "are environmentally unsound and present human health risks."

Johnston said increased energy development and air pollution, combined with permitting of development at Fremont Lake -- Pinedale's source of drinking water -- shows a "federal stubborn refusal" to listen to local will and health issues.

"This suggests to me that Washington supervisors are less concerned with the near- or far-term public health issues" than they are with economic gains, the doctor said to applause.

Several members of American Indian tribes said there needs to be more emphasis on "multiple use," rather than exclusively energy development.

Wes Martel, representing the Wind River Indian Reservation tribes, said the government needs to recognize special places including the Jack Morrow Hills, Red Desert and Adobe Town.

Representatives of industry also took their time at the microphone to talk about how their companies are working to protect the environment. Conservation and interest groups also used the opportunity to talk about their work.

Mark Peterson, an environmental issues specialist for the Utah Farm Bureau, said he supported voluntary, incentive-based programs versus regulatory requirements. That sentiment was echoed by some industry representatives.

Louise Lasley, with the Wildlife Conservation Society, said public input is key when making public land decisions, and geography should not restrict who can provide input.

Others, including Sublette County Commissioner John Linn and Tyler Vanderhoff with a consulting group, said the National Environmental Policy Act needs to be changed. Vanderhoff said there should be a time limit on how long environmental reviews of proposed development take, and federal agencies should be more careful to develop environmental reviews that are appropriate. He said often a larger review is used when a more curtailed review is appropriate.

Linn also echoed statements that more decisions should be made on a local level, and once issues reach Washington, D.C., local people are in a more defensive stance.

Pam Dewell with The Nature Conservancy said Wyoming needs to "hang on to what we already have." She said science is needed in how to mitigate the effects of the energy boom. "Reward good stewardship," she said.

Daniel resident Perry Walker told federal officials turf boundaries by different agencies are an "impediment to effective stewardship." He called it a "sorry situation" and "regulatory gridlock," and called for an internal audit of regulatory methods by federal agencies.

Lois Herbst with the Wyoming Stock Growers Association said "bureaucracy is rampant in our government today." She criticized the government for not listening to Wyoming when wolves were reintroduced to Wyoming.

"We have a voice here in Wyoming that you could have cooperated with," she said. People can't use permits on federal land because of grizzly bears and wolves, and she wanted to see an accounting of costs of the Endangered Species Act. "The total public is never given the total cost and impact to communities and to private landowners."

The value of irrigation should be made known to the public, and other values ranchers give to public lands, she said to applause.

Other states hosting the listening sessions include Texas, California, Georgia, Florida, Pennsylvania and Maine.

Environmental reporter Whitney Royster can be reached at (307) 734-0260 or at royster@tribcsp.com.

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